Though we’re only four weeks into the NFL season, the Atlanta Falcons are heading in a very scary direction.
Atlanta is currently 1-3 after falling this past weekend to the Cincinnati Bengals — good for last place in the uber-competitive NFL South division. Atlanta has lost three games by a total of 13 points. Offensively, the Falcons do somewhat look like the team that went to the Super Bowl a few years ago. Matt Ryan has been fantastic — throwing for 1,316 yards and 10 touchdowns (with a completion percentage of 68.3).
Julio Jones is already half-way to another 1,000-yard season (502 yards). Rookie pass-catcher Calvin Ridley leads the team in both yards-per-reception (17.6) and touchdowns (six). In total, Atlanta is putting up a respectable 29.0 PPG.
These numbers look great on the surface. However, there are some issues offensively which adversely has impacted the defense.
Atlanta simply hasn’t been able to run the ball. Devonta Freeman has been injured, and Tevin Coleman has rushed to the tune of only 3.9 yards-per-carry. Atlanta as a team ranks No. 21 in rushing yards per contest (96.0). The mass reliance on throwing the football has resulted in an overworked defensive unit.
Atlanta’s offensive prowess in past years was largely defined by balance. It hasn’t been the case this year — and thus the defense is stuck on the field for long spells. A ball-control style of game-calling has been essentially jettisoned for an elevated spread scheme.
Along with that, the defense has been hindered by injury, inadequate play-calling, and a lack of fundamentals. Losing both Deion Jones and Keanu Neal was huge. Jones is one of the league’s most athletic linebackers. His versatility in both stopping the run and covering smaller backs out of the backfield enabled head coach Dan Quinn to be more creative. With Jones gone, teams are slicing through Atlanta’s paper-thin defense.
Neal had been the quarterback of Atlanta’s offense. Aside from making the correct calls on the back end, he also packed a considerable punch when crashing through lanes in run support. More than anything, Neal helped in setting the tone collectively for the team.
Without Neal and Jones, Atlanta has operated with more of a bend-but-don’t-break scheme. It hasn’t fared well thus far, as Atlanta ranks No. 29 in points allowed (30.5). The Falcons don’t play with aggressiveness. Duly, the team has been very poor in terms of missing tackles and assignments. This is particularly troubling when factoring in that the team is coached by a guy rooted on the defensive side of the ball.
Vic Beasley has been another problem area. The former Clemson product broke out as a second-year player when accruing 15.5 sacks in 2016. Since then, Beasley has been very poor. He had only 5.0 sacks last year — and has only 1.0 sack in the current campaign. If it weren’t for the pass-rushing exploits of former UCLA star Takk McKinley (5.0 sacks on the current season), Atlanta would have next to no pass rush. Quinn needs to rely upon his defensive pedigree from his previous job in Seattle. This includes adding more aggression when it comes to play-calling. This gives the Falcons a better shot at creating turnovers — something obviously made more difficult without Neal and Jones. The enhanced blitz calls should somewhat mitigate the personnel loses.
Things don’t get any easier for Atlanta — as they head on the road for a tilt versus an equally desperate Pittsburgh team. When further factoring in the difficult slate of division games, the Falcons must right the proverbial ship quickly. If not, they’ll miss the playoffs (which could then result in coaching and personnel changes).
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